The Regulator Movement (also known as The War of the Regulation), where colonial settlers took up arms against the corrupt colonial government, was an uprising along the North Carolina backcountry that lasted from 1764 to 1771. Although the Regulator movement ultimately failed, some historians consider the Regulator movement and The Battle of Alamance to be among the many pockets of resistance that ultimately led to the American Revolutionary War.
The primary goal of the Regulators was to form an honest government in North Carolina and to reduce taxation. Many of the people of North Carolina, specifically those living out on the frontier, experienced discontent with the provincial government from England. For the most part, they were primarily concerned with ending the abuses of the state’s government officials. This differed from the philosophical arguments about the form of government or with the body of laws that came later in the years prior to the American Revolution.
Wealthy landowners and politicians who ruled North Carolina saw The Regulator Movement as a threat to their political and economic power. Ultimately, they were able to appeal to the Royal Governor of North Carolina, William Tryon, to bring in the militia to crush the Regulator Movement. Estimates show that six or seven out of every eight people living in what was then Orange County, North Carolina, supported the Regulator Movement.
The Regulator Movement is but one example of the growing dissatisfaction of a large segment of the American population during the time before the American Revolution. One could argue that the Regulator Movement was waged against corrupt local officials – sheriffs, judges, and the colonial representatives of the English Crown – but not the Crown itself. However, these Regulators boldly opposed royal authority and their actions set an example for other communities who took up arms against the Royal Governors in the colonies.
The Regulators were formed in the spring of 1768. They took their name “Regulators” because they wanted to regulate the taxes, fees, and the legal and political power of the colonial government. Essentially, they wanted a voice in how their colony would be run and who would reap the benefits of taxation. While they might have thought of themselves as people who wished to reform government, the wealthy and powerful elites in North Carolina considered them to be a mob. After repeated attempts to negotiate with the colonial authorities through peaceful negotiations, the Regulators began to act increasingly more radical and lawless. They refused to pay their fees and taxes, terrorized colonial authority, and disrupted court proceedings.
Governor William Tryon was charged with ending the revolt of the Regulators and bring the North Carolina back country back from lawlessness. In the spring of 1771, Tryon marched against the Regulators. Late in the spring, on May 11th, Governor Tryon and an army of about a thousand men were resting on the banks of the Alamance Creek. Five mile away, there were nearly two thousand Regulators. On May 16th, Governor Tryon and his army met the Regulators and ordered them to peacefully disperse. When they failed to move, Tryon and his militia began firing on the Regulators and won a decisive victory.
After the Battle of Alamance, many of those who were former members of the Regulator Movement moved farther out onto the frontier over the Blue Ridge Mountains. While many Americans tend to think of Lexington and Concord as being the flashpoint of the American Revolution, there were many regional uprisings leading up to the American Revolution that also played a prominent role in pushing the colonies toward Independence. In the state of North Carolina, The Battle of Alamance is an important event in the state’s history and is a focal point in two of North Carolina’s outdoor dramas: The Sword of Peace and Horn in the West.